The Billy Motel in Davis draws all walks of life with a surprisingly diverse menu.
Two things happen when you walk inside the swanky lounge of the surprisingly eclectic and impossibly cool retro jewel ISH Kitchen at The Billy Motel in Davis: First, your jaw drops. How did such a “worldy” place find its way to this tiny town in Canaan Valley? Next, you try to put your finger on what makes it so, well, cool—and you just can’t.
Funky furniture and chic decor fill the dimly lit lounge, which features just a few bar seats, a couple of tables with couches and chairs, and a throwback fireplace that adds to the ambiance. The look is a little bit roadside retro with notes of old-school ski lodge and other seemingly random touches that all come together in a vibe that’s been described—as their T-shirts proclaim—as “Hillbilly Fabulous.” The theme was born out of owner Joy Malinowsky’s previous venture in nearby Thomas, where she opened Cooper House Bed & Cocktail 10 years ago.
“I knew I couldn’t completely commit to just one style,” Malinowsky says. “So, it’s a mishmash of looks built on a mid-century modern aesthetic.” In short: super diverse. “I wanted to create a business that would draw a diverse crowd of people to this area. There’s plenty of diversity in D.C. nearby, so why not here? I believe if that is your mindset, then that is who you’re going to attract.”
Sure enough, things really took off, and The Billy Motel started to welcome a cross-section of guests. This included younger people in their 20s, who started filling the place not only to stay in one of the pocket motel’s 10 colorful rooms, but also to sip and savor incredibly imaginative cocktails and tapas dishes representing countries all over the globe. The menu is inspired by many of the ethnic dishes Malinowsky found herself missing from the big city.
“Every time my chef and I would start experimenting with possible menu items, we’d take a traditional ethnic dish and put a little spin on it,” she says. “So we joked that it was Indian-ish or Asian-ish. We found ourselves saying that a lot, so we knew we’d have to name the restaurant ISH.”
And ISH is delish.
Bringing ethnic flavors to the mountains of West Virginia, the restaurant’s offerings on any given week feature the cuisines of as many as 10 different countries. There are fiery roasted potatoes with garlic aioli from Spain, spicy noodles with pickled vegetables from Japan, kimchi and mung bean pancakes from Korea, a salt-roasted beet salad with chopped pistachios from Persia, hearty stews from Ireland spiked with local craft beer, cheese puffs with creamy herb sauce from Portugal, kaffir lime and grape leaf rolls from Vietnam, a spring mix salad with Manchego and walnuts from France, marinated shrimp or tofu spring rolls from China, an orange zest crème brûlée from France—the list goes on.
While customer praise is good and all, Malinowsky says she knew they had really nailed the menu when she was flipping through a copy of New Yorker magazine and saw a review of a restaurant in the Big Apple offering many of the same dishes.
ISH Kitchen’s allure has been so strong, in fact, that it recently reopened after a significant remodel that added a new dining room and expanded bar area to accommodate growing crowds. Despite continued challenges in the hospitality industry post-COVID, Malinowsky says she is cautiously optimistic about The Billy’s future.
“The pandemic put quite a spin on the service world, and the cost of goods has tripled. But we’re lucky that we also have 10 rooms to rent out, which gives us a cushion to help support the restaurant during tough times.”
And not just support the restaurant, but also her employees. “We pay a median salary of 15 bucks an hour, plus tips. We have managers who make more and high school kids who make a little less. That’s really high in this industry, but they deserve it. I believe people should be able to have just one job—I truly believe that. I realize that’s a sea change, but I want to be part of it.”
Better yet, she wants to do it here in West Virginia. “My mom’s side of the family is from Morgantown, so I went to high school there and spent some time at WVU before living in Philly for 35 years. But I’m glad to be back, and now my daughter is here helping me out as general manager, too. That’s really wonderful,” she says. “Really wonderful.”